Paper 2

The Paper 2 exam consists of six essay questions, only one of which must be answered during the timed period. The essay is to be written about the Part 3 literary texts. Therefore, it is a test of understanding literature in context. Although the questions will change from exam to exam, they will always focus on the connection between, style, form, author, purpose and audience. Selecting good Part 3 texts is therefore essential.

These pages offer an overview of the requirements, the criteria, sample student work and tips on Paper 2 essay writing. Besides familiarizing yourself with these pages, you will want to study previous exam questions, practice writing under exam conditions and research your literary texts carefully. You can find several activities that help you develop the skills you need for the Paper 2 exam on the 'skills' page.

Although it seems as if a quarter of your IB grade is determined in one brief sitting, in fact you can do a lot to prepare for this exam so that it is not so nerve-racking. Careful planning and a clear strategy are half the battle. What one writes is only the tip of a very large iceberg.

The basics

  • Answer 1 of 6 essay questions. SL and HL students receive exactly the same 6 questions.
  • Essay must answer one question in relation to both literary texts that were studied for Part 3.
  • Essay must answer one question in relation to 2 or 3 of the literary texts studied for Part 3.
  • has 1.5 hours to answer this essay question.
  • has 2 hours to answer this essay question.
  • Paper 2 grade counts for 25% of the final grade.

Sample questions

Are you curious to see what Paper 2 questions look like? Here is a sample of questions that represent the kinds of questions that could appear on the exam. They are inspired by the sample questions that appear in the Language A: Language and Literature guide.

  1. Explain how the authors of at least two literary works have portrayed a social group in a particular way. How might the contexts of the authors have influenced their portrayal of these social groups?

  2. It is often said that literature is a voice for social commentary. How is this true of at least two works that you have read.

  3. To what extent can the meaning of a literary work change over time? How does this question apply to at least two works that you have read?

  4. To what degree are readers influenced by their culture and context. Explain how at least two works could be read differently depending on the culture of their audience.

  5. 'Coming of age' is a common theme in literary works. With regards to at least two literary works, explain how the author's own youth influenced their portrayal of this theme.

  6. With regards to at least two literary works, explain how the setting both influences the characters and reflects the author's own context.

  7. How are the characters from at least two literary works representational of people from the time and place in which they were written?

  8. Why might two of your Part 3 works be considered 'timeless'?

  9. With regards to two literary texts, explain why authors may have chosen to depict events in a particular sequence or order.

  10. How do two literary works both reflect and challenge the spirit of the times in which they were written?

Comments 16

Christa Bauerschmidt 30 March 2014 - 18:33

Hi David,
in paper 2 the studnets are asked to refer to Part 3 works - i it possible that they choose works in translation - in or case originally written in German?

David McIntyre 31 March 2014 - 05:00

Just fine, Christa. See the 'syllabus outline' in the course study guide for precise details of what is permissible. Are you familiar with the terms 'PLA' and 'PLT'?


Christa Bauerschmidt 31 March 2014 - 09:11

Thank you, David,
Yes, I am.
So it would be possible to compare two texts that are not on the PLA?
What about comparing e.g, the historical contexts of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Persepolis (PLT)?

David McIntyre 31 March 2014 - 09:53

Christa, is this SL or HL? It's fine to compare the historical contexts relevant to both texts. Then, of course, it's important for students to read and discuss the literary texts informed by that awareness.

Christa Bauerschmidt 2 April 2014 - 19:42

thank you, David
It's HL

David McIntyre 4 April 2014 - 02:25

So, that's just fine, Christa.

Caitlin Randles 21 April 2014 - 18:36

Hi David,

Would it be possible to access the questions from the November 2013 Paper 2 exam?
Also - does IB ever publish what their 'ideal answer' might look like? On the occ I saw this for specimen papers but have not seen it for the May 2013 or November 2013 exams. Thank you.

David McIntyre 23 April 2014 - 08:54

Hi Caitlin,

I need to your email address please; your address on our system seems to be incorrect.

The IB do, from time to time, publish sample work. They do not publish an 'ideal answer' as such.


Caitlin Randles 23 April 2014 - 13:32

Hi David -

I just updated my email in the system. Sorry, I was recently married and changed my name and the list of other things I have to change seems to be endless!

The correct email is there now. Thanks for the help!


David McIntyre 24 April 2014 - 02:00

Well congratulations, Caitlin.

See your inbox please.


Celeste Coronado 8 August 2014 - 10:49

HI, David, I would also a copy of the November 2013 exams.

Connie Bellocq 8 August 2014 - 14:56

David, would it be possible for you to send me a copy of the May 2014 exam questions for both papers? Thank you so much.

David McIntyre 11 August 2014 - 04:33

Connie, for copyright reasons, I am unable to do this.


David McIntyre 11 August 2014 - 04:34

Celeste, this is not possible, again for copyright reasons.


Guy Cheney Guy 16 December 2014 - 18:28

One question: Do the three works for HL (or two for SL) have to be of the same genre? Can genres be mixed?

David McIntyre 17 December 2014 - 06:24

Hi Guy,

Genres can be mixed, as long as your course as a whole has the right mix of genres, periods, and places.

Students sometimes struggle to do well in criterion C (particularly when they choose a context focused question). Mixing genres can be a way of drawing attention to the different ways in which literary texts establish meaning and effect, and you can hope that some of this eventually becomes apparent in students' Paper 2 responses.


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